Berwickshire arable wildlife project

The arable farmland in this picturesque corner of south-east Scotland supports a range of important wildlife.

 Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, amongst grass


Several farmers in East Berwickshire are undertaking conservation work, such as planting wild bird cover plots, managing their hedgerows for wildlife and carefully grazing grasslands which contain rare plant species. Most of this work is funded through agri-environment schemes, the most recent being the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP). 
Several reviews of agri-environment schemes have consistently highlighted difficulties in assessing their effectiveness due to a lack of wildlife monitoring. A further limitation is the lack of advice and support which farmers receive throughout the course of their agri-environment agreements. 
The Berwickshire Arable Wildlife Project seeks to address these issues by undertaking regular wildlife surveys, feeding the survey results back to farmers, their agents and local government. That way, we can get a better handle on what is working and what needs to be improved.


  • To improve the quality and quantity of conservation management and to show this results in increasing populations of priority species.
  • Undertake monitoring of eight red-listed (and one amber-listed) farmland bird species in East Berwickshire so as to provide a dataset which can be used to assess whether the local farmland bird population is increasing, stable or decreasing.
  • Foster a collaborative approach between conservationists and farmers so conservation management is tailored towards important species and habitats.
  • Work with Butterfly Conservation to provide expert advice for a range of wildlife.
  • Work with agricultural agents to quantify the current levels of agri-environment management in the area and assist them in submitting agri-environment applications.
  • Undertake winter bird surveys on wild bird cover plots (WBC) to assess the importance of this habitat and identify ways to improve its use (ie by planting different crops within WBC).
  • Supply all farmers involved in the project with nestboxes for priority species, such as tree sparrows.
  • Foster an enhanced knowledge and appreciation of the region's wildlife among the local community through local events.
  • Provide opportunities for wildlife enthusiasts to survey local areas of farmland and get to know the farmers.


Planned Work

  • Every year we aim to undertake breeding bird and habitat surveys on 10 sites.
  • Every year we aim to undertake butterfly surveys at five sites.
  • We will repeat bird, habitat and butterfly surveys of the same sites on a three-year rotation to gauge how breeding populations respond to changes in land management.
  • We are providing free advice to farmers and their agents to produce high quality SRDP applications which are targeted towards the priority species recorded on their farms.
  • We are developing links with local schools to get children involved in constructing, putting up and monitoring nestboxes on local farms.



It is too early to assess any population trends, but so far:
  • Breeding bird surveys have been carried out on 35 areas of arable farmland. Each site is roughly 0.8 square kilometres, so in total we have surveyed more than 28 square kilometres.
  • At each site we have also recorded the crops grown, what agri-environment management is taking place and what boundary features are present (ie woodland, hedgerows, water margins). We have also assessed the condition of the boundary features.
  • During the winter months, we have carried out winter bird surveys on 34 plots of wild bird cover. We have also recorded the seed food present within the wild bird cover plots.
  • Seven butterfly surveys have been undertaken, with a special emphasis on recording priority butterfly species for the area, such as the common blue, wall and grayling. Other interesting wildlife sightings are being recorded, such as wool-carder bee and tree bumblebee.
  • In 2015 we started botanical surveys of grasslands being managed under the 'Mown Grassland for Wildlife' and 'Species-rich Grassland' management options of SRDP.
  • Abbey Timber has very kindly donated wood for 100 nestboxes in 2014 and has promised to donate timber for another 200 nestboxes over the next two years.


Get involved if you are a farmer interested in receiving free wildlife surveys and conservation advice, an agricultural agent looking for specialist advice on priority species, or a volunteer with a good knowledge of natural history and bird ID skills with time to spare.


The RSPB is providing free surveys and follow-up advice to farmers in the area, with support from Butterfly Conservation. Conservation measures are being funded through the Scottish Government’s Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP). Abbey Timber are providing timber for next boxes free of charge.


Coast on a stormy day

Daniel Brown

Conservation Adviser, RSPB
Tagged with: Country: Scotland Habitat: Farmland Habitat: Grassland Species: Barn owl Species: Corn bunting Species: Grey partridge Species: Kestrel Species: Lapwing Species: Linnet Species: Reed bunting Species: Skylark Species: Tree sparrow Species: Yellow wagtail Species: Yellowhammer Project status: Ongoing Project types: Farming Project types: Advocacy